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Natalie Diaz​

Grief Work


Why not now go toward the things I love?


I have walked slow in the garden

of her—: gazed the black flower


                        dilating her animal-



I give up my sorrows

the way a bull gives it horns—: astonished,


                         and wishing there is rest

                         in the body's softest parts.


Like Jacob's angel, I touched the garnet

of her hip,


                         and she knew my name

                         and I knew hers—:


it was Auxocromo, it was Cromóforo,

it was Eliza.


When the eyes and lips are brushed with honey

what is seen and said will never be the same,


so why not take the apple

in your mouth--:


                            in flames, in pieces, straight

                            from the knife's sharp edge?


Achilles chased Hektor around the walls

of Illium three times—: how long must I circle


the high gate

between her hip and knee


                                  to solve the red-gold geometry

                                  of her thigh?


Again the gods put their large hands in me,

move me, break my heart


like a clay jug of bone, loosen a breast

from some darklong depth.


                                   My melancholy is hoofed.

                                   I the terrible, beautiful


Lampon, a shining devour-horse tethered

at the bronze manger of her collarbones


                                   I do my grief-work

                                   with her body—:


labor to make the emerald tigers

in her throat leap,


lead them burning green to drink

from the deep violet jetting her breast.


We go where there is love,


to the river, on our knees beneath the sweet

water. I pull her under four times,


                                       until we are rivered.

                                       We are rearranged.


I wash the silk and silt of her form my hands—:

now who I come to, I come clean to,


                                         I come good to.


Like Church

My lover comes to me like darkfall—long,


and through my open window. Mullion, transom.


A good window lets the outside participate.


I keep time on the hematite clocks of her shoulders.


And I’ve done so much of it—time. Her right hip-


bone is a searchlight, sweeping me, finds me.


I’ve only ever escaped through her body. What if


we stopped saying whiteness so it meant anything.


For example, if you mean milk of magnesia say


milk of magnesia, or snow, or they’ve hurt another


one of us, or the way the quarter-moon is a smoke


atop the dirty water, or the pearline damp she laces


up my throat, my face. Mi caracol. They think


brown people fuck better when we are sad.


Like horses. Or coyotes. All hoof or howl. All


mouth clamped down in the hair, on the neck,


slicked with latherin. You ask, Who is they?


even though you know. You want me to name


names. Shoot, we are named after them. You think


my creator had heard of the word Natalie? Ha!


When he first made me he called me, Snake


then promised the afterlife would be reversed,


south turned north, full with tight watermelons.


Pluck one melon and another melon grows


in its place. But it’s hard, isn’t it? Not to perform


what they say about our sadness, when we are


always so sad. It is real work to not perform


a fable. Just ask the turtle. Ask the hare.


Remind yourself and your friends: Sometimes

I feel fast. Sometimes I am so slow. Sometimes


I get put down in the street. Always I win


the wound they hang on my chest. Remind


yourself, your friends. They are only light because


we are dark. If we didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be long


before they had to invent us. Like the light switch.


Yes, our Creator says Kingdom and we come.


Remind our friends. We fuck like we church—


best. And full of god, and joy, and sins, and


sweet upside-down cake. And when they ask me,


What’s in your love’s eyes? I tell them. Wild water-


melons, green-on-green striped. She and I, we eat


the watermelon, starting at its thick sugar-heart,


hold the beady seeds in our mouths like new eyes


and wait for them to leap open and see us first.



My whole life I have obeyed it—:


        its every hunting. I move beneath it

        as a jaguar moves, in the dark

                liquid blading of shoulder.


The opened-gold field and glide of the hand,


        light-fruited, and scythe-lit.


I have come to this god-made place—:


        Teotlachco, the ball court—:

        because the light called: lightwards!

                and dwells here, Lamp-Land.


        We touch the ball of light

        to one another—: split bodies, desire-knocked

                and stroked bright.

                      Light reshapes my lover’s elbow,


        a brass whistle.


I put my mouth there—: mercy-luxed, and come we both


        to light. It streams me.

        A rush of scorpions—:

                fast-light. A lash of breath—:



        Light horizons her hip—: springs an ocelot

        cut of chalcedony and magnetite.

                Hip, limestone and cliffed,


slopes like light into her thigh—: light-box, skin-bound.


        Wind shakes the calabash,

        disrupts the light to ripple—: light-struck,

                then scatter. 


This is the war I was born toward, her skin,


        its lake-glint. I desire—: I thirst.

        To be filled—: light-well.


The light throbs everything, and songs


        against her body, girdling the knee bone.

        Our bodies—: light-harnessed, light-thrashed.

                The bruising—: violet, bilirubin,



A work of all good yokes—: blood-light—:


        to make us think the pain is ours to keep,

        light-trapped, lanterned.

                That I asked for it. That I own it—:



I am light now, or on the side of light—:


        light-head, light-trophied.

        Light-wracked and light-gone.


        The sweet maize in fluorescence—: an eruption

        of light, or its feast,

                from the stalk

                        of my lover’s throat.

-from Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press, 2020) selected by Spring 2021 Guest Editor Cyrus Cassells. 

Natalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2012. She is 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. She was awarded a Bread Loaf Fellowship, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, a Hodder Fellowship, and a PEN/Civitella Ranieri Foundation Residency, as well as being awarded a US Artists Ford Fellowship. Diaz teaches at the Arizona State University Creative Writing MFA program.

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